For years, Joshua Santiago dreamed about opening a fully-fledged barber shop in the back of an RV so he can take his services to his clients. The Mayfair resident has driven around Philadelphia and across the country with equipment in the back of his vehicle so he can offer free grooming to the homeless population, no matter where they are located.
Five years later, Santiago’s mission gained publicity as well as financial and moral support, and his dream has come true – he’s got a full-sized RV decked out with enough equipment for a miniature barber shop. It’s a goal he met much quicker than anticipated.
But it’s just the beginning.
“There’s so much more we’re going to do,” Santiago said.
For Santiago, a haircut means as much to a person on the inside as the outside. While he was enrolled in the American Beauty Academy in Wilmington, Delaware, he traveled to homeless shelters to cut hair, and he realized he liked the gratitude of the person more than he likes the money. Since he started, he said he’s become a familiar face to people whose hair he cuts in Kensington and across the city.
He purchased the 32-foot-long vehicle last year and was able to raise around $70,000 to renovate it thanks to a viral social media post explaining his story. The project was completed at Auto Addiction, 5223 Torresdale Ave., with a team of nine people led by Nicholas Cruz completing the renovation.
The inside has two cushioned barber seats, a shampoo chair and sink, a bathroom and a waiting area complete with a couch, TV and coffee maker. A mural of outer space painted by Charlie Failure decorates the wall opposite the mirrors, with words like ‘Hope’ written backward so clients can see it properly reflected in the mirror. The upgrade cost about $50,000 and took about four months to complete the renovation.
During non-pandemic times, the RV will serve as an oasis for individuals to relax, cool off and get a haircut. With social distancing restrictions, it may take some time to use the waiting area.
Empowering Cuts will also partner with local recovery houses to help visitors find the help they may need, Santiago said.
Santiago hosted a grand opening a few weeks ago to show off the finished truck to friends, social media followers and the community.
“Every time I sit in here or any time I’m even around this RV I’m still taking it in,” he said.
As Santiago said, this was what he envisioned when he started, but now that his goal has been achieved, it’s time to start looking into the future. Santiago knows Philadelphia isn’t the only city experiencing homelessness.
“If we can have 10 more of these in different states and cities, that would be amazing,” he said.
Opening a shelter or recovery homes may also be on the horizon one day once Empowering Cuts, a nonprofit organization, becomes his full-time gig. Santiago works as an Uber driver as he continues to provide haircuts for free.
Santiago’s work is a testament that beauty is more than just skin deep, and whichever road his RV travels down will be lucky to have him. ••